One of the truisms of modern politics is that the party out of power can expect a jolt of enthusiasm and activism from its base. The tea party was born in the wake of President Barack Obama’s election. Eight years later, the Resistance exploded into existence even before Donald Trump was sworn in. In both those cases (and previous ones), partisan media benefitted from that new engagement.
Fox News thrived during the Obama years. As one story on NPR noted, “Liberals may be ascendant around much of the nation—in control of both houses of Congress, a majority of governors’ mansions and, of course, the White House—but times could hardly be better at the Fox News Channel, the cable channel liberals love to hate.”
Daily Kos traffic surged to unprecedented levels after Trump’s election. Conditioned to cycles were Democratic victories meant shedding traffic and lower revenues, we went from battening down the hatches, expecting a financially bleak-for-us Clinton presidency, to having the resources to expand aggressively. (I’d still take Hillary Clinton though, thank you very much.)
Thus, it wasn’t a surprise that after the craziness of Jan. 6’s coup attempt and other early year Trump shenanigans, traffic to liberal outlets (including this one) would fall. I don’t think our partisans were ready to declare victory and walk away with a “mission accomplished” mindset like they did after Obama’s 2008 victory, but we were exhausted from four years of never-ending Trump atrocities and drama. It was natural for people to take a break and recharge.
But if history held, it was a prime opportunity for the right to reignite. A new protest movement of some sort would take hold, vilifying President Joe Biden and other Democrats, while partisan media would ride that wave to new ratings records. But a funny thing happened instead.
Yes, traffic to liberal outlets fell, anywhere between 17-27%. But what’s amazing is that traffic to conservative outlets fell by a far greater percentage! According to that chart, from 27-44%! Now we can laugh at the idea of Fox News being “right-leaning.” But it’s much more fun to laugh at their traffic being down over 20%.
Apparently, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head “controversies” aren’t doing the trick, much less hyperventilating about teaching Black history and America’s legacy of racism.
A big part of the right’s problem is their inability to really dig into Biden attacks. Their machine is optimized to demonize women and Black and brown candidates. But try as they might, they just can’t really get overly excited about that old white guy in the White House. As I wrote back in April:
Republicans are flummoxed, impotent, under this dramatic and sustained effort to redistribute our nation’s wealth. Their media organs can’t muster up anything beyond manufactured outrage over Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. Knock yourselves out, Fox News! It’s so hard for conservatives to get angry at an old white guy that they are ignoring the substance of his (popular) agenda, and literally inventing nonsense out of thin air, such as “Joe Biden wants to take away your meat.”
Imagine anyone else with the exact same agenda. Imagine it was President Harris, or President Warren, or President Sanders, with the exact same $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and the same exact multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and child care and healthcare plans. Imagine them mouthing the same words Biden has. Literally, just swap out the president and leave everything else the same. And tell me there wouldn’t be massive nationwide conservative tea party 2.0 protests against them. Yet with Biden, that old, relatively boring white guy? Crickets.
Three months later, nothing has changed.
That’s not to say that conservatives won’t finally land on something that reengages them, but compare today’s relative silence to the raucousness of the anti-Obama tea party movement, or the singular purpose of our own anti-Trump Resistance. Modern Republicans only have the withering Q conspiracists, clinging to their never-ending stream of discarded predictions. And Trump, they have Trump, doing everything he can to undercut his supposed party.
But we don’t have to guess at the levels of Republican engagement and intensity. We don’t have to worry that we’re missing something because of rose-tinted partisan glasses. Their media numbers tell the story.
Our side disengaged, likely to take a break and breather before the next brutal midterm cycle. But their side?
Who knows why they’ve quit to that extent, even in the face of an activist and explicitly liberal presidential administration. Is it because Trump has convinced them the system is rigged? Is it because they’re realizing they were sold a pack of lies? Is it because they’re embarrassed by what has become of the Republican Party? Is it because they’re realizing that liberal politics aren’t the death of America they were promised?
Whatever the reason, this is yet another sign that 2022 isn’t a lost cause, and that Democrats have a fighting chance to buck history. The party in the White House has historically lost around 30 seats in the House. No one thinks winning next year will be easy. But this isn’t 2009, when the signs of doom were obvious early in the cycle.
Republicans have somehow made 2022 a referendum on Trump, once again, rather than the guy actually running the country. And whatever the reason why, even conservatives can’t get too riled up for that.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.